The Sugarland Express (1974)
February 6, 2023 12:01 PM - Subscribe

Married small-time crooks Lou-Jean (Goldie Hawn) and Clovis Poplin (William Atherton) lose their baby to the state of Texas and resolve to do whatever it takes to get him back. Lou-Jean gets Clovis out of jail, and the two steal their son from his foster home, in addition to taking a highway patrolman hostage. As a massive dragnet starts to pursue them across Texas, the couple become unlikely folk heroes and even start to bond with the captive policeman.

Also starring Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham.

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins. Story by Steven Spielberg, Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown. Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. Edited by Edward M. Abroms, Verna Fields. Music by John Williams.

The film's Lou Jean Poplin and Clovis Michael Poplin are based on the lives of then-21-year-old Ila Fae Holiday/Dent and 22-year-old Robert "Bobby" Dent, respectively. The character of Texas Highway Patrolman Slide is based on then-27-year-old Trooper J. Kenneth Crone. The character of Captain Tanner is based on Texas Highway Patrol Captain Jerry Miller.

In real life, Ila Fae did not break Bobby out of prison – he had been released from prison in April 1969, two weeks before the slow-motion car chase began. Unlike in the film, Bobby died instantly when he was shot at Ila Fae's parents' house near Wheelock, Texas where they had gone to visit Ila Fae's two children (born from a previous marriage). Ila Fae was sentenced to five years in prison, serving only five months. She died in 1992, in her mid-40s.

87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Available for digital rental. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How far can a movie get from a thin true-life crime story if it has Steven Spielberg at the helm and Goldie Hawn as the star? Pretty far, actually.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:03 PM on February 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm more surprised that the male lead is William Atherton, probably known mostly to filmgoers as the villain in 80s movies such as Ghostbusters, Real Genius, and Die Hard.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:37 PM on February 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

There's some real cognitive dissonance in having to root for him on screen.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:47 AM on February 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I was disappointed there wasn't some final post-credits scene of the old couple still standing at the side of the road, waiting for the sheriff to return.
posted by Molesome at 12:53 PM on February 7, 2023

I really enjoyed this movie! I went into it for William Atherton-- I think he's a phenomenal and sadly underrated actor-- but for the most part I was expecting "Smokey and the Bandit" with Goldie Hawn. But it was delightful. Two hours just flew by. Smartly paced, beautifully acted, it had the Spielberg sentimentality but it wasn't cloying. It's charming, funny, and yet bittersweet, with (what seems to me) some actual Texan authenticity on account of the locations.

Also, there's so many deft character moments: the wanna-be deputies with their "REGISTER COMMUNISTS, NOT FIREARMS" on their car; when Slide instructs Clovis how to handle the steering wheel; Lou Jean's delight in collecting her stamps; the piglet handed to her by an eager fan. I loved it, and you get so invested in these characters, the ending made me genuinely sad.

It's a great movie, and thanks to the OP for posting it!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:00 PM on February 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

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